Helping Children Entertain Themselves


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Because our children are our responsibility we, as parents, sometimes think that we need to make sure our children are always busy and entertained. Recreation director may be one of the roles of a parent but we also need to do other things to maintain the family. There is housework to do, meeting our personal needs, and just talking with other adults. Children need to gradually learn to be responsible for themselves and their own learning.

Each child has unique concentration/attention ability. This ability to attend to a task increases as the child matures. There is, however, tremendous variation in attention span from one child to another. As a result the parent needs to accept the child where they are and slowly help the child learn to do their own entertainment/learning.

Some general rules can help parents know how to help this process take place.

Rule 1 - Avoid interfering when youngsters seem to be harmlessly entertaining themselves. Some parents are anxious to help their child progress and so they praise the child each time they find them engaged in self-determined learning. When we interfere in any way when a child is concentrating, we break the child's concentration and the child usually asks the parent to join them. This is not what the parent had in mind when they interrupted. It is wiser to observe the child when they are concentrating on a task. The task itself is normally reward enough if it is what the child is interested in, ready for, and appropriate.

Rule 2 - If a child tells you they are bored do not take responsibility for their boredom. If the child indicates to you is that they are bored it is probably safe to say that they are really asking you to "play with them," "get out of the current circumstances," or, "take care of a problem that they think is to hard." As a result, telling them what they could do will not help. The child is looking to you to decrease their boredom. The fact that the child is bored is the child's problem, not the parent's problem. The parent may choose to help the child with their boredom problem, but they should not feel that they have to solve the child's problem.

Rule 3 - Observe your child so that you can steer them into activities that they like, can do, and are ready for. At different levels of growth children are ready for different tasks. A dangle bar with measuring spoons, tin foil, and other things that a child can look at are appropriate for a small baby. Exploring cardboard boxes can be an adventure for a child that can crawl. These same boxes can be used for a train, doll house, beds for dolls, etc, as a child gets older. Butcher paper can also be used to help a child make a life size drawing of them. If the parent is creative they can find many interesting things in the house that can be interest a child and help them learn at the same time. To do so the parent must know the child, choose age appropriate items, and demonstrate for the child how they might use the items selected.

Rule 4 - Find ways to help the child figure out what they can do to entertain themselves. One mother I heard of gave her "bored" child some paper and crayons and told the child to draw pictures of different things she could do with her time. Another family kept a file box of things to do and told the child to select a card from the box if they couldn't figure out what to do. One mother presented her little boy with a "magic" stone and instructed him to rub the stone and look around the room until he the magic stone helped him figure out what to do. Yet another Mother told her child that she had household chores that could be done if he could not figure out what to do. All of these ideas may be of help, but each parent needs to find their own way to keep the responsibility for figuring out what to do in the hands of the child.

Rule 5 - If you feel there are physical problems that make concentration difficult, make arrangements to have your child examined/evaluated to see if there are attention problems that need to be addressed medically.

Everyone lets themselves get bored now and then. Children are no exception to the rule. As a parent you can help your child figure out what to do to get un-bored, but you should not accept responsibility for assuring that your child is constantly entertained.